The story is narrated by the adult Bob Starrett (who was renamed Joey for the movie), as he tells of his childhood during the summer of 1889. The story starts when the mysterious eponymous horseman emerges at the Starrett farm and asks to use their water pump to freshen up himself and his mount. Joe Starrett, the patriarch of the family, convinces the visitor, who gives his name as simply Shane, to have dinner with them and rest at their home for the night.That one night's stay-over eventually extends to several months, as Shane is hired to help Joe fix up the farm in preparation for the winter and gradually becomes embroiled in Joe and his fellow homesteaders' ongoing feud with local cattle baron Luke Fletcher (who was renamed Rufus Ryker for the movie).
The Film of the Book, which was released in 1953, was reasonably faithful to the novel, but made significant expansions.
Tropes present in the novel include:
- Always Someone Better: Shane and Joe see each other as this for themselves.
- Badass Boast: Plenty of times, usually from either Joe or Shane. The latter best exemplifies it in the final confrontation.Stark Wilson: I've no quarrel with you, even if you are Starrett's man. Walk out of here without any fuss and I'll let you go. It's Starrett I want.Shane: What you want, Wilson, and what you'll get are two different things. Your killing days are done.
- Bar Brawl: Shane gets into two of these with Fletcher's men. The first time is against Chris, the second time against Morgan and his goons.
- Berserk Button: Quite a few examples.
Bob: (narrating) I had never seen Father quite like this. He was past anger. He was filled with a fury that was shaking him almost beyond endurance.
- Joe doesn't take too well to discovering Morgan and his boys ganging up on Shane.
- A second Berserk Button is revealed for Joe after Stark Wilson is introduced, when the latter hints at planning to...do things to Marian. Joe, who's wielding a lever-action rifle at the time, is ready to blast Wilson, but Shane stops him in time due to Wilson being far faster on the draw.
- Ernie Wright's mother was not an Indian. Anyone who says otherwise will incur his wrath.
- Stark Wilson doesn't take kindly to being called a liar. Shooting will ensue.
- Big Bad: Luke Fletcher.
- Book Dumb: By his own admission in the narrative, Bob was this as a child.
- Bullying a Dragon: Two examples in the story:
- Chris pulls this on Shane, by teasing him that the homesteaders raise pigs (which, for them, is an insult). Shane himself is easily able to ignore the burn, but it's when the other homesteaders complain about it that he decides to respond to Chris.
- Ernie Wright ("Stonewall" Torrey in the film) later does this to Stark Wilson by calling him a liar in response to his Berserk Button being triggered. Unfortunately for him, being called a liar is Wilson's own Berserk Button...and suffice it to say, it doesn't end well for Ernie.
- But Now I Must Go: As in the Film of the Book, Shane pulls this following the final confrontation. However, his motive for doing so here differs from the reason given in the movie - here, he wants Bob to grow up with a structured family which only his parents can properly give him.
- Combat Pragmatist: Shane is not afraid to break your limbs, punch you in the throat, knee you in the balls, or stamp on your foot to break out of a hold. (In all fairness, in the fight where all this happens, he is fighting five tough cowboys at once.)
- Curb-Stomp Battle: What Shane pulls on Chris during their second confrontation. According to one eyewitness report later, he beats Chris's face so badly that it looks like a horse stomped on it, then breaks his arm...and all of this happens in the space of thirty seconds, with Chris not even being able to land a single hit.
- Determined Homesteader: Joe Starrett. Nothing, whether threats or hard work, will stop him from eking out a living on his land.
- Doesn't Like Guns: Shane, to a degree, to the point that he actively chooses not to wear one for the majority of the novel. However, he's not above giving Bob a few pointers about gun usage, as well as informing him that a gun is just like any other tool and can be used for good or evil.Shane: A gun is just as good - and as bad - as the man who wields it.
- The Dragon: Stark Wilson (who was renamed Jack Wilson for the movie) serves as this to Fletcher in the last few chapters of the book. Before him, the cattle foreman Morgan served this role.
- The Dreaded: Stark Wilson is this, as evidenced by the bartender Will's reaction when one of the homesteaders informs him that the man is in town.Bob: (narrating) Will would not believe it at first when Johnson told him the name. What would (Wilson) be doing up here, Will kept saying.
- The Drifter: Shane, of course. As he puts it: "My family came out of Mississippi and settled in Arkansas. Me, though - I was fiddle-footed and left home at 15."
- Groin Attack: Shane pulls this on one of Morgan's mooks during his second bar-fight by kneeing the man in the crotch. The man is reduced to a wincing mess who's dragging himself toward the saloon doors.
- The Gunslinger: Both Shane and Stark Wilson are this.
- HeelFace Turn: Chris, just like his film counterpart would do later.
- Heroic BSoD: Joe has one after being told that Shane has left the valley following the final confrontation.
- Honor Before Reason: Stark Wilson seems to have a moment of this when he accompanies Fletcher to the Starrett homestead for some subtle intimidation tactics. Moments after Shane stops Joe from trying to shoot Wilson for making subtle hints about his intentions for Marian, Shane approaches Wilson, whose gun-hand twitches...but then Wilson relaxes as soon as he sees that Shane isn't armed.
- Lightning Bruiser: Joe, when sufficiently provoked. Shane's also quite fast and a heavy hitter.
- Love Triangle: Marian falls for Shane without falling out of love with Joe. Joe and Shane trust and admire each other. All three realize that nothing is ever going to happen between Marian and Shane and the only way to resolve the situation is for Shane to move along - but not until after the current situation has been resolved.
- Mighty Glacier: Curly, one of the named mooks Shane fights during his second Bar Brawl."He was stupid and slow-moving, but he was thick and powerful and he had worked in harness with Chris for several years."
- Oh, Crap!:
Shane: Perhaps you have something to say about soda pop or pigs. (Red Marlin wisely chooses not to answer, but he's sweating in fright)
- This is Red Marlin's reaction on witnessing Shane's Curb-Stomp Battle of Chris, realizing they'd been Bullying a Dragon all along.
- Ernie Wright has a brief moment of this on realizing he's in way over his head in challenging Stark Wilson.
- Retired Gunfighter: Shane was trying to be this.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Fletcher's first hired gun recognizes Shane and realizes that he is not on his side. He quits immediately. When Chris taunts him and calls him "yellow", he looks at Chris, looks at Shane again, and tells Chris, "You can call it that." Shane never sees him and never realizes he was there.